Citrus Bowl Football

LSU cornerback Quad Wilson (16) returns a Purdue interception 99-yards as he gets past Purdue tight end Drew Biber, left, for a touchdown during the second half of the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

In modern day college football, the seriousness and importance of bowl season has become an annual talking point.

Outside of the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six bowls, many of the remaining games get labeled by many as meaningless. In the age of opt outs, the coaching carousel and the transfer portal, this can often leave teams depleted when their bowl games come around, often creating less exciting matchups.

This was a reality LSU faced last year. 

When LSU faced Kansas State in the Texas Bowl last season, the Tigers had only 39 available scholarship players, and were led by an interim head coach. LSU was outmatched in that game and was dominated by a Kansas State team looking to prove a point to end its season.

Two days less than a year later, LSU got to see the other side of that situation, dominating a depleted and nearly helpless Purdue team 63-7.

“You get these opportunities and you want to be able to celebrate your season, enjoy the Bowls and the atmosphere, and then you want to go play well. And we did that today,” Brian Kelly said. “Our guys executed at a high level. They competed at a high level. We were not at full strength, but that did not stop our guys from putting in the time and the effort.” 

LSU dominated this game from beginning to end. After being stopped on their first drive, the Tigers scored on six consecutive drives, with those scores coming in a plethora of ways. Jayden Daniels got the start at quarterback, but Garrett Nussmeier saw significant snaps as well. Daniels finished the game with 139 yards and one touchdown on 12-17 passing, and added 67 yards on the ground.

Nussmeier finished the day with 173 yards on 11-15 passing and two touchdowns with one interception. Nussmeier showed some impressive flashes once again, building on his SEC Championship performance. Despite his success, though, Kelly eliminated any rumors of a quarterback controversy.

“There's no quarterback controversy. Jayden is the No. 1 quarterback. Garrett will get an opportunity to compete, though,” Kelly said. “Look, the most important thing is when you have two really good quarterbacks, you have to have an open mind. You can't be close-minded when you're looking at two elite quarterbacks.” 

All three of LSU’s quarterbacks saw the field today, with Freshman Walker Howard seeing the field in the fourth quarter as well. This kind of performance can carry momentum into the spring, especially looking at a quarterback room where Kelly expects all three to return.

“I absolutely 100 percent believe that all three quarterbacks are going to be with us, and all of them we've had conversations with and feel that that's the direction we're going,” Kelly said.

The unexpected variable to the passing attack, though, was Malik Nabers. Nabers completed two passes for 50 yards and even threw a touchdown pass to Daniels on a trick play. Nabers had arguably the best game of his career, finishing with a career high 163 yards on nine catches to go along with the passing numbers, earning him Citrus Bowl MVP honors.

“My coaches, Coach Kelly, Coach Hankton, they always talk about having fun, don't be so stuck up and to try to get all the highlights. If it's destined for you, it's going to come. Today was destined for me to have this amazing game,” Nabers said.

The LSU defense was equally as dominant in the game, holding Purdue to just seven points. The Tigers only gave up 269 yards of total offense, and forced three turnovers. With each turnover, the theme of having fun was on display.

On a Greg Brooks Jr. interception in the second half, Brooks and multiple other plays ran over to celebrate with the Cheez-It mascot behind the endzone, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. This elicited an upset reaction from Kelly forcing another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Despite the penalties, Kelly was happy to see the players have fun with the moment.

“Look, if they were to do something that was demeaning to the other team or not in good sportsmanship, we would have taken action, but they were having fun with each other,” Kelly said. “If a bunch of old men can't get out of the way of that, we're in a bad spot. So let them have fun and enjoy it, and at least that's the way I saw it.”

With the blowout win, LSU can now carry the momentum of the game and a 10-win season into 2023. Much can be made of the circumstances regarding opt outs, transfers and other factors leading up to this game and many bowl games. But for LSU, the program has plenty of positives to take from this game into next season.

“This one was really big. It obviously was a convincing win. It showed more about how our guys handle distractions, but when it's time to get back to preparation, how they can prepare and not be distracted by doing things like being at the bowl game,” Kelly said. “And that carries on into next year where they understand that if they stick with their process and preparation, they are going to be a really good football team.” 

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